PHOENIX — A 572-pound man who gained fame as spokesman for the Heart Attack Grill -- a Phoenix-area restaurant that unabashedly touts its unhealthy, high-calorie menu –- died Thursday, MyFoxPhoenix.com reported.

Friends of 29-year-old Blair River say he died Tuesday, possibly from contracting pneumonia after a bout with the flu.

Standing at 6’8”, River gained attention from around the globe after signing on to be the larger-than-life spokesman for Chandler's Heart Attack Grill last fall. There, servers are dressed like nurses and the owner wears a doctor's lab coat, but the menu is the opposite of health-conscious.

Jon Basso, the restaurant's founder, teared up a bit Wednesday when he was asked about the 29-year-old's sudden death.

"We all have a very, very brief time on this earth, and the measure of a man is how he leaves the world after he's been here, and I can tell you Blair River was my friend," Basso told MyFoxPhoenix.

Many criticize the eatery that offers meals in excess of 8,000 calories. They feature huge hamburgers, milkshakes and fry their fries in pig lard. A sign in front of the building reads, "Caution. This establishment is bad for your health."

Basso says he expects the criticism, but the message beneath the outrageous menu is one of caution. Even some diners agree -- it's your choice to eat there or not to eat there.

"We are absolutely guilty for glorifying obesity, it's what we do, but if you stop and think about why we glorify obesity and come into the Heart Attack Grill diet center I think you'll get it," Basso told the website.

When MyFoxPhoenix talked to River in November about his modeling contract, he said he felt healthy and had no regrets about the way he lived his life.

River was a genuine person who told us the Heart Attack Grill gig, at $100 an hour, was all in good fun. Basso wants him to be remembered as a gentle giant and not someone who represented poor eating habits.

The founder said River was a creative genius who had been planning to take part in the shooting of a promotional spot called, "Heart Attack Grill: The Musical."

River started as a state champion high school football player and wrestler from Payson, Ariz. He leaves behind a young daughter.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Click here to read more on this story from MyFoxPhoenix.com.